UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 12, 2009

OBAMA AS MICRO MANAGER

Neil King Jr. and Jonathan Weisman, Wall Street Journal - In briefing President Barack Obama one day this spring, White House economist Jared Bernstein delved into such arcana as the yields on different forms of credit relative to the risk. Later, Paul Volcker pulled Mr. Bernstein aside. "Why would the president want to know that level of detail?" asked the former Federal Reserve chairman.

"That's what he wants," Mr. Bernstein replied. . .

In the sessions, according to those who attend, the president sometimes chafes at his advisers' limitations, quizzing them on points raised by critics or asking them to do justice to a view other than their own. At times he quotes from letters sent to the White House to counter a stance taken by his team.

A president's management style can set the tone for an administration. Jimmy Carter was a famed micromanager, often at odds with his own advisers, and he caught a lot of Beltway criticism for his focus on policy details. . .

Whatever the merits or flaws of Mr. Obama's style, it sometimes has trouble translating with opponents, and the country at large. Following a smooth first few months in office, he has seen his agenda stall amid rising opposition, even from some members of his own party. . .

Mr. Obama's attention to detail has helped give a paradoxical cast to his first months. He has pushed an ambitious agenda that would involve remaking large parts of the economy, in such an extensive way that he has drawn opposition even from Democrats worried about injecting the government too far into the economy and pushing taxes and spending too high. And yet, even while championing the ambitious agenda, say presidential aides, Mr. Obama has shown last-minute caution on many fronts. . .

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